Film review: Europa

A gripping survival thriller about a young man's desperate battle for a better life

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Europa (from 18 March, Home, Manchester and other venues) stars Mancunian actor Adam Ali (soon to be seen in BBC’s reboot of Waterloo Road) as Kamal, a young Iraqi trying to enter Europe via the Turkish-Bulgarian border and finding himself embroiled in a desperate battle for survival. Lost and alone in a forest, he tries to navigate his way to freedom while evading terrifying armed local “migrant hunters” who are intent on tracking down people entering the country.

Writer and director Haider Rashid, himself of Iraqi and Italian origins, mixes a survival-based thriller with a heavy dash of social realism here. The sombre opening text makes it clear that the film is based on real events which happen on the dangerous Balkan Route, where migrants are smuggled into Europe across the Turkish border and are often subject to violence and intimidation at the hands of law enforcement officers and local vigilantes.

After a very quick opening set-up, Kamal races through a border gate and into a disorienting scene of flashing lights, masked men, barking dogs, screaming and gunfire. What follows is an intense hour of film as we follow Kamal on his journey through the forest, the camera staying tightly on him for most of the time while we as the viewers share his disorientation and despair. Kamal hunts for food and water, scrambles up steep and treacherous rockfaces and (mostly) hides from danger. We know little of Kamal’s back story bar a few hints here and there, and Ali works hard, and succeeds brilliantly, to convey every moment of terror, confusion, despair and hope that his character experiences in this mostly dialogue-free film.

With the beautiful, peaceful surroundings of the lush forest contrasted with the masked killers who lurk within it, there are vague echoes of Deliverance, but Rashid never pushes the film into traditional thriller territory bar one pivotal and dramatic encounter. Running at around 70 mins, Europa is a short, sharp and at times gruelling watch.

At a time when we’re seeing daily reports of people fleeing war, Kamal’s search for safety resonates strongly, and while we see people from Ukraine being welcomed with open arms by their European neighbours, this is a timely reminder that other people are still being treated with such a lack of humanity in the same part of the world.

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